Dallas — Hostess with the mostess soul and a happy fan base, Denise Lee, opened the second night of her Fourth Annual Dallas Cabaret Festival with a reminder that the performers in the wings are “not just your ordinary lounge singers,” but polished artists with a broad repertoire to choose from. Some 90 folks at tables and chairs lined around the around basement space of the Bath House Cultural Center fanned themselves, drank soda and wine and ate the delicious catered dinners till the food ran out.
True to Lee’s introduction, Malcolm Beaty, dressed in a big shirt and mopping his shining pate with a hanky, stepped to the mike wearing an irresistible smile, and delivered the songs that made him the winner of this year’s So You Think You Can Cabaret contest at Two Corks and a Bottle. He kicked off his 50-minute show with a rich and winning rendition of “Part of that World”, then laughed about the incongruity of a big, handsome black man longing to be Disney’s mermaid Ariel. Then as the evening progressed, he linked his songs to his shifting and growing aspirations as a performer. Beaty was accompanied throughout by the excellent jazz pianist and arranger Norman Williams, Lee’s longtime colleague.
Beaty also wanted to be a king, and his big tenor voice got him the role of King Arthur in a college production of Camelot, and his wise, joyful rendition of that legendary king’s title song filled the Bath House with smiles and applause. In college Beaty studied opera, and fell in love with Schumann’s lieder cycle, a sample of which he delivered in the original German, but only after quickly reviewing the words to the yearning romantic song that revealed the singer’s great emotional and vocal range, bass notes to counter tenor. Modest and self-effacing, Beaty joked with the audience about his so-called operatic career that mostly consisted of Verdi one-liners in delivered full blast, to divert a fight or marriage.
Beaty’s big, opera-trained voice could have done without the miked-up sound in the smaller venue. The speakers were especially harsh for folks sitting at tables right in front of the stage.
Beaty grew up singing gospel, and still sings in church. He delivered a rapt rendition of “Everytime I Feel the Spirit Moving in My Heart” that had a cabaret audience shouting amen. He credits his roles in Echo Theatre’s Her Song, a series of shows featuring songs by women composers and singers, for inviting him onto a stage to engage with an intimate audience at their Bath House venue. He sang a flirty, sweet rendition of “The Way You Look Tonight,” a favorite from those shows.
We even got a theatrical rendition of the Kurt Weill’s “Lonely House,” with lyrics by Langston Hughes, evoking the crippling feeling of abject loneliness. Happily, right on top of this sad song, Beaty tells us about the joy of falling in love, and the discovery of how love anchored his life. We believe it when this man sings “My Baby Just Cares for Me.” He teased Lee about fighting her for singing “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going”, Effie’s defiant and devoted love song from Dreamgirls. Then he cut loose with a torch song rendition of this musical ballad that brought the house down. His partner, sitting at a nearby table, had to be loving it, too.
Before introducing the second act, Lee invited Cody McAdoo, a singer sitting stage side she’s worked with before. The young man stood up, took the mike and delivered a full-throated, moving rendition of the Righteous Brother’s “Unchained Melody.” One song got this young man a standing ovation and lots of approving shouts.
The special “Two for One” evening included singer Peggy Lauren Lohr, and her husband Bill Lohr on piano. Both artists have many nightclub and stage credits in Dallas and L.A. Peggy performed with Les Brown’s Band of Renown, and Bill has worked in a range of venues, including accompanying Lou Rawls and working with Laurence Welk.
Dressed in a spiffy black cocktail dress with lots of bling, Peggy introduced herself by saying she’s super relaxed because she just retired after 20 years of teaching third graders, drawing a big round of appreciative applause.
She introduced the show’s ambitious program, “The Great American Songbook,” promising to start in the 20s and go through to the 60s. I counted 20 songs, and we learned a lot in her intros to American popular songs and jazz standards, although the talk overtook the songs sometimes, and cut into the performance time for the music, and making the cabaret venue feel a bit like a lecture hall.
Pert and friendly, with a nice mezzo voice, Peggy sang “I Can’t’ Give You Anything but Love” and rolled her eyes to Fats Waller’s “Ain't Misbehavin’.” Bill did a cool jazz riff on “Bye Bye, Blackbird.” She talked about the influence of movies and sang the George and Ira Gershwin hit, “Someone to Watch Over Me.” She sang an evocative “Summertime,” a good song for the lakeside venue.
Peggy accessorized her outfit as she moved forward in time, placing a big white rose in her hair when she got to the 30s in honor of Billie Holiday. Moving to the Big Band era, Peggy donned a zoot suit jacket and sang “Pennies from Heaven.” She then sang Cole Porter’s “I’ve Got You Under My Skin" and “Night and Day.”
From the 40s, she sang “Over the Rainbow” and “Take the A Train,” and Bill did a nice take-out on this jazz standard. It was getting late, but Peggy kept the songbook going with “Laura” by Johnny Mercer and “Lullaby of Broadway” by George Shearer.
She put on sunglasses and sang the naughty Frank Sinatra lyrics to “Teach Me Tonight.” By the time she got to the Beatles’ “Here, There and Everywhere, she was clearly feeling rushed, and getting cues from the pianist to hurry it along. Fortunately, she ended on a song suited to her style, closing the show and the evening with a stylish “The Girl from Ipanema.” And on that lively note we all applauded and walked out onto the lovely lakeside of our town’s only beach. There is still sand along the water’s edge behind the historic Bath House where swimmers once cooled off during summers in the city.